NYCWP Voices: Three Shorts by Jennifer Ray Morell

Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.


“Rules of the Road”

When you see the dog out of the corner of your eye, you think first that it is nothing and then that it is a ghost flickering through time. You maintain your speed. You keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road. Still, you feel its presence as it races beside your car, its legs pounding the asphalt with a frightening velocity.

As it cuts in front on you, your foot hovers over the brake, your mind racing through fragments of instructional driving videos. The dog is faster than you are though, faster than the others on the highway. The dog (now you are certain it is a dog, not nothing, not a ghost) weaves in and out of traffic, and you struggle to follow its path. You remember then that the videos tell you that you must hit the animal. You cannot slow down. You cannot swerve.

The car beside yours dips into your lane, and when you turn your head to curse them, you see that the driver is shouting for you. He wants you to slow down, to form a wall across the lanes of traffic. You obey, and together you clog the road. The dog zips back and forth across the great expanse in front of you. You can see now that it is brown, long-limbed, collarless. It is easier for you to believe it is a deer.

Behind you, people lean into their horns, but they are ignorant to the work you are doing. A slow-moving border, together you inch forward until the next exit, where maybe then the dog will realize how to escape.

If only you could reach across to open the passenger door, offering the dog amnesty. You are certain it would understand your cue. A week earlier, with her, you could have saved it.

 

 

“Roots”

Deep in her core, she felt the seed expand, unfurl. First, the roots mirrored her capillaries, but soon twisted around them, strangling. She coughed, tried to dislodge the growth, but her spittle ran clear, lacking blood or pollen or any other clues to what grew within her. The doctors suggested cancer, inoperable, even when her scans proved otherwise. Radiation, chemotherapy – these could only shrink the mass. She balked. Why should she destroy this tree within her lungs, simply because it mistook her body for a patch of moist earth?

At night, she spoke to it, asking it to halt its constriction, to grow out of her body instead of deeper within. She felt its response: a churning, an expansion. By morning, she expected to see branches extending from her fingertips, leaves budding from her scalp, moss blanketing her belly, but her appearance, besides a new sallowness, a peakedness, remained unchanged. Sometimes, the doctors – her second and third opinions – left messages for her, urging her to begin treatment. She ignored it all, feeling compassion for this life that she carried. When it was time, she knew, she would find the perfect spot, lie down, branch out.

 

 

 

“Pinniped”

Your parents don’t say a word while you wait on line to buy tickets for the aquarium. They stand behind you, silent like statues, and your dad has his hand on your back. As the line crawls, he pushes you forward in small increments, like you are a mechanical boy. It makes you so happy that you forget to turn around to see their faces.

When you reach the counter, your dad buys three tickets. You want to hold yours, but before you can ask, your mom tells you to stand in front of a green screen while a man takes your photo.

Inside, you run from exhibit to exhibit, pulling at your parents’ hands. You watch sea lions catch fish in their mouths, and flop with fat bellies on the wet tiles. The rooms are connected by glass tunnels, with fish swimming above you, and even more swimming beneath your feet. You wonder if maybe they are looking at you, the way you are looking at them.

In the cafeteria, your dad tsks at the prices, but your mom buys you chicken nuggets shaped like sharks anyway. In the gift shop, you beg for a hat with walrus tusks that jail you inside your head.

You pretend to be asleep on the ride home, but secretly you strain to listen to their words hidden under song.


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Jennifer Ray Morell is an English teacher at Archbishop Molloy High School. She received her MS in Education from St. John’s University and her MFA in Fiction from The New School. Her work has appeared online at Slate, Tin House, Trop, and Quirk. She lives in Queens.

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